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City Attorney Burgess set to retire

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe

Denton official to leave position in February

Denton’s city attorney announced she plans to retire in February.

Anita Burgess sent members of the Denton City Council an email late Friday announcing her plans. She thanked them for the opportunity to serve and the confidence they showed in her work.

“Sitting in this chair has been one of the greatest privileges of my professional career,” she said.

Burgess, 64, came to Denton in 2008, having served as the city attorney in Lubbock from 1995 to 2008. Burgess joined the U.S. Marine Corps as an attorney, serving from 1975 to 2003. She retired from the corps as a colonel.

Burgess has ushered the city through mundane and extraordinary legal challenges, with the citizen’s ban on fracking high on that latter list. Denton voters approved the proposition by a wide margin in November 2014. The state and the industry sued to block it. Burgess hired outside attorneys to help defend the city, but she often was in the courtroom or at the negotiating table beside them.

Eventually, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 40, which nullified Denton’s ban and greatly limited the ability of local governments to regulate oil and gas activities within their boundaries.

Burgess did not return a call for comment.

Mayor Chris Watts said he was surprised when he received Burgess’ email.

“I didn’t know she was planning this,” Watts said.

But he wasn’t completely surprised, he said, adding she also didn’t ask for more than a one-year extension to her contract. He took that as a signal Burgess could be considering other options because employees who hope to stay for a while usually ask for five years or more on a contract.

Burgess’ departure is the second executive-level shakeup since the City Council decided not to renew its contract with former City Manager George Campbell last summer.

The city manager and the city attorney work for the City Council, as do the municipal judge and city auditor.

The council recently completed its search for a new city manager, and Todd Hileman is expected to begin working in Denton on Jan. 23.

The council is interviewing candidates for auditor this week and is expected to announce its decision in the coming days.

Watts said he wasn’t sure whether the upcoming election will have an effect on the search for a new city attorney.

Four council seats are up for election, and at least two likely will have new members. Council member Kathleen Wazny announced she will not run again, and council member Kevin Roden has reached his term limits.

“We’ll have to talk about that,” Watts said.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.